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Inside the Capitol

Editor's note: Every other Sunday through the conclusion of this year's session of the Iowa Legislature, our five local lawmakers will share their Statehouse views.

Sen. Rick Bertrand, R-Sioux City

Unlike Sioux City, Des Moines lost most of its snow this past week, but I’m not sure if it was from the temperature outside or the heated debate from inside our state's Capitol.

Wow, what a historic week for Iowa. First as promised, we in the Senate passed an aggressive tax reform package that will simplify our tax code, while reducing individual tax rates to historic lows for all working Iowans. This reform package sunsets many costly and outdated tax credits while promoting business investment and profitability for our Iowa job creators.

Second, this conservative Senate passed an aggressive, and long overdue, criminal and sentencing reform package that focused on a part of the code that had not been updated since the 1970s. Why this is important is because the need for labor is in such high demand in Iowa, and I believe this bill will provide a second chance for many young Iowans who admittedly made a stupid mistake early in life and who have paid their dues. They will have an opportunity to re-enter the job market by making themselves once again employable.

And to my pro-life friends, the historic legislation known as the “Heartbeat Bill” passed the Iowa Senate on straight party lines with virtually no resistance. The Democrats quietly rolled over as it is impossible to argue the reality of a heartbeat. This bill does two things - saves babies and starts the long-overdue march back to the U.S. Supreme Court. Iowa has a chance to lead, and I call on Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer to pass this bill as is and for Gov. Kim Reynolds to lead. Lead and use her power of the bully pulpit to drag this legislation across the finish line and to her desk. Governor Reynolds, the time is now, and we in the pro-life movement are winning and demand action.

Great week for Iowa.

Rep. Jacob Bossman, R-Sioux City

Access to mental health services in our state is a serious problem. Many people do not pursue the care they need for various reasons: a gap in types of services provided, long distances from available providers, and costs of services, among others. I’m excited to have had the opportunity this week to vote for three bills that I believe will help in addressing those needs.

HF 2456 is a comprehensive mental health bill that, among other important steps, creates short-term access centers where Iowans suffering from a mental illness can be stabilized before reaching a crisis, and then receive appropriate treatment. This type of interim care was previously lacking and led to shortages in the number of available mental health beds. HF 2305 expands telehealth services in Iowa - particularly applicable to the field of mental health. It allows patients to use modern technology to receive services from mental health professionals who might otherwise be too far away. It’s essentially Skype for health care. And I was proud to floor manage HF 2406 which expands access to mental health services in our public schools. School districts who could not afford to employ a licensed social worker would, under this bill, have the option to share that position with a neighboring school district. It is one more option to help ensure our students will have access to the services they need.

Expanding access to mental health services in Iowa is something we all should support - and something for which I will continue to advocate.

Sen. Jim Carlin, R-Sioux City

Last week was a historic week for long-awaited reforms in life and tax reform legislation.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky once said, “We are citizens of eternity.” The distinct uniqueness of each of us is one of the many wonders of our humanity. I think God made it that way to convey a clear intention. If we can see these things so readily, how can we allow ourselves to go further down a path of death that diminishes us when the giving worth has been so creatively and vividly expressed by our Maker?

Last year, we passed a 20 weeks life bill that included provisions for a mandatory ultrasound and a three-day waiting period. These provisions were intended to save lives and encourage contemplation of the humanity of the life yet born. Under the "Heartbeat Bill," abortions are prohibited when a fetal heartbeat can be detected during an ultrasound unless a medical emergency exists and would be necessary to protect the life of the mother. Under the bill, the pregnant patient would not be criminally liable. The passage of this historic legislation would be heard around the country.

On Wednesday, Iowa Senate Republicans passed the Iowa Working Families Tax Relief Act. It is a bold, billion-dollar response to a complex tax code with some of the highest personal income and business tax rates in the country. Fixed-income seniors, lower- and middle-income families and single-parent homes will see significant cuts that will average a thousand dollars or more. It will make Iowa a more attractive option for business investment and foster significantly higher-paying job creation.

Please feel free to contact me at 712-253-4270 or email me at jim.carlin@legis.iowa.gov.

Rep. Chris Hall, D-Sioux City

More details came out last week on a tax plan approved by Senate Republicans. The non-partisan Legislative Services Agency reported that the bill would cut more than $200 million out of next year’s budget, which needs to be approved before the end of the legislative session. During debate, the manager of the bill was asked where these cuts would come from. Rather than provide fellow lawmakers and the public with an answer, he refused to give details on how the state budget would remain balanced.

Still more staggering is the long-term cost. Once phased in, the bill would cost the state over $1.1 billion every single year. What is even more confusing is that Senate Republicans effectively increase a tax on volunteer firefighters, while cutting taxes for corporations by more than $250 million. The relief is lopsided and significantly favors high-income earners and big businesses over the average family.

We’ve seen the devastating reality of similar tax cuts passed in states like Kansas, which resulted in huge deficits and major cuts to education and health care funding. I’ve also spoken to Republican lawmakers in Kansas, and heard firsthand the hardship these tax cuts created. Their state could not afford what was unrealistic to begin. Bottom line – it’s an empty promise.

With less than four months left in the fiscal year, lawmakers still haven’t balanced the current year’s budget and they’re already undercutting our budgets for the next decade. Many of my Republican friends say they barely recognize their party. Gone are conservatives of principle and fiscal discipline. Now governing is a GOP trying desperately to please their campaign donors so they can remain in power.

Rep. Tim Kacena, D-Sioux City

Mental health is one of the biggest topics in the nation and in Iowa. Last week the Iowa House passed HF2456. This is the House’s version of a mental health bill. It specifically deals with commitments, licensing of subacute mental health facilities, disclosure of mental health issues to law enforcement, videoconferencing of hospitalization hearings, transportation service contracts, mental health and disability services, quarterly reports, regional core services, reduction of fund balances from mental health regions, a commitment process report and a tertiary care psychiatric hospital report. This bill is a good start. However, more needs to be done, especially for young children and addressing the need to recognize the triggering mechanism that often leads to problems as they age.

We also passed a bill that addresses the opioid crisis in Iowa. In 2015 there were 59 opioid-overdose deaths, and 163 opioid-related deaths. This number rose to 86 overdose deaths and 180 opioid-related deaths in 2016. The preliminary data from 2017 shows that these numbers rose again to 99 overdose deaths and 202 opioid-related deaths. These numbers are expected to increase as data is finalized. HF2377 will add regulations to the Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP), electronic prescriptions, prescriber activity reports, substance abuse prevention, registration, controlled and precursor substances, and will provide good samaritan immunity to those who wish to help in a crisis. I know that this bill will address some of the issues that can lead to opioid abuse and misuse.

Finally, another school shooting in our country. I believe that military style weapons are not needed in a civilized society. It is up to each and every one of us to bring more civility to society so people will feel secure enough that they may not want to own such a weapon.

May the families of the victims who grieve for those lost find peace.

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